Not Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun

It was a quiet exchange, and the customers didn’t even realize anything had happened until the guy with the gun had run out the door, crossed the parking lot, jumped a guardrail, and disappeared into the woods. Then the cashier started bawling her eyes out, and we all caught on. I’d been sitting in a Dunkin Donuts booth with my friend Mark in Haverhill, Massachusetts, my hometown. It was the mid-1990s, sometime around midnight, and the place had just been robbed.

The natural order of doughnut-serving, doughnut-purchasing, and doughnut-consuming broke down immediately. The cashier cried on the shoulder of her shift manager, who was trying to talk to the cops on the phone. We customers peered out into the night, trying to see past our own fluorescent-lit reflections, trying to see where the gun dude had run off to. This hubbub was punctuated by the squawking, tinny voices of irate customers chattering over the unmanned drive-thru intercom.

I was tempted to jump over the counter and take command of the drive-thru, to fill their orders, to keep my fellow New Englanders properly lubricated with jelly and caffeine. But I resisted that temptation, because Haverhill boasted at least 12 other Dunkin Donuts locations, so it’s not like they couldn’t go drive-thru somewhere else.

At the next booth, a high school girl convinced herself that she had just barely escaped disaster. She announced to the room, “Awmagaad! I coulda gawt shot!” She repeated this several times, her panic and volume increasing with each iteration, as she looked to her boyfriend for confirmation that, yes, indeed, awmagaad, she coulda gawt shot. I could guess what was running through her head: “OH MY GAWD. THERE’S SOMETHIN HAPPENIN AROUND ME THAT SEEMS LIKE SOMETHIN ON TV. I HAVE SOMETHIN TO TALK ABOUT IN HOMEROOM TOMORROW. O MY GAWD.” She was trying as hard as she could to turn this into some sort of Defining Life Experience. She eventually interrogated the still-crying cashier for details: What was it like? Were you scared? Did you see the gun? Awmagaad. Each response was memorized for the following day’s five minute passing period between Algebra and Biology. This girl was determined to remember every moment of this dramatic episode in her life, especially the ones that didn’t happen to her.

In fact, this girl decided she was so traumatized, so endangered, she had to go outside to the payphone and call her mother to tell her how distraught she was over the gun-toting dude who had just run across the parking lot, jumped the guardrail, and disappeared into the woods. The problem I have with this clever course of action is — okay, yeah, fine, call your mom — But the payphone is outside. Across the parking lot. Over by the guardrail. Right next to the woods.


* This story is featured in my book One More Cup Of Coffee
* Listen to the audio essay version of this story
* Read more short non-fiction